For a cyclist to use his/her bike as means of transportation in a big non-bicycle-friendly city is a daily struggle for survival (if you live in Denmark or the Netherlands or another civilized country with bicycle paths you can pass this article) that requires abilities and great effort.
Drivers will take many years to start respecting the rights of cyclists on the road, so it is a good idea for us cyclists to take full responsibility for our lives and learn to ride in such a way that it ensures our daily rolling without unpleasant contacts with cars, motorbikes and other metal things.
Personally, since I ‘ve never had a car, the bike was and is my only means of transport. I have been travelling with it all over Greece, I transported heavy objects, friends and girlfriend on the infamous Greek roads, and I realized that commuting (or travelling) by bike apart from being environmentally friendly, economical and enjoyable it is also safe if you follow some basic rules.
Lately, I decided to sit down and write those rules and a few lines for each one of them. I believe strongly that they are the essential mantra for every biker who dares to cycle in modern, hostile cities.
Be seen. Be super bright.
As far as cycling at night is concerned, I think that to be seen should be the No1 concern of every cyclist who does not want to get killed by a car. In the overwhelming majority of collisions, the driver claims that he did not see the cyclist. I think that says it all. Going out in the streets during the night without bright lights (by bright light I mean circus-like bright – a blinking light does not do anything in light pollution conditions) I consider it a true suicide attempt. The few times I forgot my lights in a night right, few drivers stopped and gave me a warning. They couldn’t see me. Even during the day though, on large roads, I find the reflective vest to be a very important accessory.
Be in the moment.
When you ride your bike you are constantly in danger. A careless driver or your own slip of attention that could last less than 1 second can send you to the hospital (or even worse). Therefore, daydreaming and irrelevant thoughts, it is vital that should only happen during relaxing rides on country roads.
Be in shape.
I find it dangerous to ride a bicycle without being in good physical shape. In many cases, some parts of the road are blind spots for drivers and you need to pass them as soon as possible. In other cases, the road is narrow and the cars can not overtake you. Also, it is generally advisable to move quickly within the traffic so that you are not an annoyance to the drivers, and also not as exposed.
Learn to turn away from collisions – The brakes are not enough.
Everyone who has experience cycling in the city knows that. Braking, unfortunately, is not always enough. We have to train ourselves to avoid any collision while braking. For example, when a car does a turn hook on us, brakes will do half the job. You should also react well by turning to the right direction too, in order to avoid been overridden by the car.
Never listen to music while riding.
Many studies have shown that you can not do two things at the same time. Multitasking is a dangerous myth. In some experiments, rally drivers have responded very poorly when they had to talk on the phone while avoiding obstacles. You have to decide what you want to do. Apart from the fact that music divides attention, headphones reduce greatly your hearing, which is a great and indispensable tool in urban biking.
Wait for it.
We have to expect every stupid move the driver will do in front of us. We must wait for it so that we do not get surprised and react in a convulsive way. At every crossroad, for example, it’s a good idea to look at the driver waiting to come out, in the eyes, and wait for him to make the move while caressing the brakes and be ready to pull them in an instant. Running the worst case scenario in your head before it happens gives us the ability to react quickly and wisely.
Never be arrogant on the road.
You and your bike weight around 100 kilograms. Cars next to you weigh 2 tons (without counting their total weight multiplied by the speed). Also, they are covered by hard metal ready to squash your soft body like a ripe tomato. We should always have that in our minds to keep us humble and respectful. As good and experienced we are on the road, or as fast and free we feel (that goes to the fixed culture), we are the ones in danger.
Learn to inform drivers about your moves (and to check if they see you when you do it).
What stress out drivers the most? Cyclists with unpredictable behaviour in front of them: changing lanes whenever they feel like it, stopping suddenly, riding without hands and so on. This unpredictable behaviour kills. If the driver sends an SMS or changes with the radio while driving, and at that time the cyclist in front of him changes lane, he will not see him and will crush him. This can be easily be avoided if you get the good habit of informing drivers (more specifically, assuring that the driver sees at the time you are making the nod) for your next move.
Always look for alternative, safer routes
I do not know why, but most cyclists I see in the cities (urban or cycling tourists) choose to ride on the car packed highways. Why; Choosing the worst road because it’s shorter is stupid for it you will win a few minutes, but you will risk your life while sacrificing the pleasure of a relaxing ride. With the new technology in our hands, it’s easier than ever to find much safer and more beautiful routes to ride. And that will only cost us few minutes.
Learn your bike and check it regularly
I consider this to be self-evident, but it is particularly important and I do not see many cyclists do it, so I repeat it at every opportunity (that concerns me as well ). As much as an experienced and careful cyclist you are, if your wheels/frame/ brakes fail while going at 40 km / h, with cars around you thirsty for bike blood, you are lost. Something like that happened to me a few years ago when the wall of my front overused rim collapsed under the pressure of the inner tube and blocked the wheel from spinning. I was lucky and made it alive with a few scratches. At least that experience taught me a lesson!